Strengthening connections was the theme of the 14th Annual FNESC Provincial Conference. So, what does strengthening connections mean? Does it mean upgrading your wireless router for a better connection? Adding some extra duct tape to your shoe so the sole will stay on? Or does strengthening connections mean engaging students more in their learning by including more cultural content and by doing so strengthening their connection to their education? Or does it mean strengthening the connection teachers have with their student by improving the structure of their classroom and their teaching style? I think the last two make much more sense and that is what I got out of two of the workshops I attended.
The Engaging Aboriginal Students Through Imagination workshop discussed many of the ways teachers can better engage aboriginal students, though their imaginations and emotions. Dr. Lee Brown said earlier in the day that “You can feel without thinking, but you can not think with out feeling.” He also shared with us that how well a student does in school is directly related to how well he or she is developing emotionally. Speaking specifically of aboriginal students, Dr. Brown said that if teachers bring in more aboriginal content and aboriginal values into the classroom, these students will be engaged emotionally and therefore become more likely to succeed. The presenters at the workshop expanded on this subject by giving suggestions for lesson plans, sharing personal experiences and by explaining how including more cultural content in the classroom can give aboriginal students a better sense of identity, and a better sense of belonging. This was also one of Dr. Brown’s beliefs as he said “Emotions become values, and values become identity.” Students and teachers both have to work on being emotionally connected to learning to be successful.
In the Putting the Pieces Together work shop, presenter Stacy Bernard spoke on building a curriculum of caring. Her emphasis was that teachers need to love their students, and build a relationship with them so that the teacher can become an attachment figure for the child. She added that it does not mean a teacher has to love the student in an adoring way but to care about their feelings and their education. Stacy stated that teachers need to build a “climate of support” in their classrooms, and create structure so that everyone knows what is expected, or in her words, “You know that I know that you know that I know.” She said that teachers need to learn their responsibilities as educators, so that students can feel safe at school and be guided through the most important years of their life. She closed by saying that we need to have emotional and morale educators in order to create a safe atmosphere to express emotion for students. Stacy told teachers to “give the students their hearts, because they are giving you theirs.”
This conference has truly shown that it takes a community to raise a child. It is not in the hands of one single person. It’s through the efforts of students, teachers and cultural leaders that success rates of aboriginal students can continue to rise so that we may look forward to a brighter tomorrow.
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